Education

Durham charter school investigating diploma problems: 'We have to do better'

Posted December 13, 2016

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— Leaders of a Durham charter school pledged Tuesday to fully investigate why more than 50 students received diplomas they didn't earn in the past three years and said they plan to meet with parents in January to detail the findings of the investigation.

The State Board of Education recommended Monday that the Durham County District Attorney’s Office determine whether a criminal investigation is warranted against Kestrel Heights.

School leaders told the public Tuesday night that their internal investigation is ongoing but that current students are not impacted and are receiving the necessary class credits.

"We understand these are real students and real life consequences, and we have to do better for our community," said Mark Tracy, executive director of Kestrel Heights. "We will do what's in the best interest of our students moving forward."

The State Board of Education has ordered the school to investigate deeper, looking into records that date back to 2008. Tracy said the school is cooperating and acknowledged that the wider investigation might reveal more problems.

“That is always a potential, but that is the point of an investigation and, you know, it’s hard to say at this point because we are still in the middle of it. We just got started with it in the last couple days,” he said.

Kestrel Heights' new principal, April Goff, discovered the diploma problem in July, shortly after she took the job. The school began investigating and reported the issue to the state's Office of Charter Schools in October.

A letter from the school on Dec. 8 lays out the timeline of what happened and references a school counselor who "was unable to provide the necessary information to resolve the (students') missing credits." The counselor, who is not named, took a leave for medical reasons in mid-August and resigned in September.

LaSaundra Vines was listed on the school's website as its high school counselor. Her picture and biography were taken down Monday and replaced with the name of the new counselor, who was hired in October. When reached by phone Monday evening, a woman who identified herself as Vines declined to comment to WRAL News.

"Oh, I'm not interested. Thank you for calling," she said.

It's unclear if Vines is the counselor mentioned in the report or if the school had more than one counselor for the high school. However, she was the only high school counselor listed on the school's website.

The State Charter Schools Advisory Board has asked the school to provide the names of the principal and counselor who were serving at the time.

Tracy said he believes the school has been upfront and honest once the problem was identified and will continue to be cooperative in the investigation. He said the school is making sure the investigation has minimal impact on alumni and current students.

“We are really focused on moving forward, focusing on the students we have and our alumni, making sure we do what is right by them,” he said.

Tracy said the plan is to finish the internal investigation by Dec. 22.

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